I’m so High-Low
Red is a powerful color. It evokes feelings of warmth, passion, intrigue, and lust. Somewhere around the age of 15, I started a Friday tradition of wearing red lipstick to school. I went to French Catholic school, complete with a uniform and archaic notions of gender performance, where young ladies were expected to be well behaved and docile. I was… for the most part. It’s around this time in my life that I started to discover how much I love vintage fashion and aesthetic, wanting to incorporate it more into my daily life. Hence I donned red lips as a tribute to the iconic, beautiful starlets of the late 1930’s onwards.
What I noticed shortly thereafter starting this red lipstick weekly ritual is that both teachers and students alike took notice and complimented me, and paid more attention to what I had to share. I was also becoming more involved in student council and volunteer initiatives at this time. Having a trademark look made it easy to recognize and approach me, and I would be lying if I didn’t love the attention. I’ve always been rather academic (read: total nerd, library rat) and to feel attractive in the eyes of others was a huge boost. In a world where the uniform did everything in its power to create an egalitarian environment, it would also qualm the individuality of the students. I took a lot of joy in having a small act of defiance that I could work in amongst the rules of our dress code.
This past Fall, I wanted to relive this feeling from my adolescence a good 10 years later. Shooting with Kissed By Light Photography, who are renowned for their fashion and boudoir work, I developed a storyboard in preparation for my shoot. Wanting to feature the coat I designed as my final semester project, I envisioned an aesthetic of vintage Femme Fatale: powerful, sensuous, devious, and a touch of badassery balanced with sweetness.
As I started to assemble the wardrobe for the shoot, I began to examine how I shop, how I create, and how I define my style. The best way to describe me is a toss up between vintage eclectic and hard hippie. My favorite places to shop are usually thrift stores with a curated section, such as Double-Take in Cabbagetown with their pride and joy Showcase, or stores such as the unforgettable Courage My Love in Kensinits, with it’s 1970s tunes and Naag Champa incense curling smoke into the air. Thrifting at such stores is an emotional adventure for me: every time I go, I’m reminded of the excitement I felt when opening a fresh bag of hand-me-downs from my cousins and hunting for treasure, giddy at the knowledge that I would have something most of my peers wouldn’t. I’ve never really enjoyed shopping for attire in malls. When it comes to shoes, beauty supplies, books, and house ware, I love malls. But when it comes to my clothes… It really bothers me to see myself spending money on a dress only to see someone else wearing the exact same thing. It feels generic- my least favourite word in the English vocabulary (after smegma).
The other important difference is where my money is going when I shop. When I buy clothing at Winners, for example, I contribute to a corporation that is paying employees but largely profiting off of my purchase. When I shop at thrift stores, most of them contribute their profits to community initiatives, meaning that the money I spend is going towards helping those in need. It’s also more ecologically-sound. I’m reusing an existing resource and preventing it from going to a landfill, instead of purchasing a new item that requires additional use of resources to be produced. In case you don’t know, I’m somewhat granola. I prefer organic, I drink fair trade coffee, and then I use those coffee grinds to make body scrub (bonus: coffee scrub is incredibly invigorating and helps keep cellulite in check, though it does make a mess in the shower). The very best part of thrifting, though, has to be the thrill of the find. As Forest Gump once said, “you never know what you’re gonna get.”
In my last photoshoot, my first outfit was a simple red dress with an open back, rushed rump, and deep slit on the one leg. It fit me like a glove, and believe it or not, it cost me absolutely nothing. I met my good friend and duo partner Jessica Sinclair to spend some time together one afternoon in September. As she was clearing out her closet in preparation for a move, she found this dress and suggested I try it on. It was love at first sight. Best of all, she fished it out of a bargain bin for $7 at a thrift store a while back, and gifted it to me because, as she said, it would be a crime not to. I paired this dress with shiny metallic pumps from Steve Madden (STEEEEEEVVVEEE MMMMMMAAADDDENNNN, as in Wolf of Wall Street), for just over $100.
When purchasing shoes, I recommend investing a little more, since our city’s streets are notorious for wear and tear. While I do believe that high heels should only ever be worn horizontally, I do love a good pair of pumps (as long as I’m not on one of my famous 2 hour walks). For me, shoes are a once or twice a year indulgence. And while I love the look of the iconic Louboutins, I won’t allow myself to splurge on these. The reason comes down to simple joy-unit math: a pair of these usually starts at about $800, pre-tax. Once I buy shoes, they start to devalue (much like a car), and the joy I feel diminishes over time. If I take that same $800, it would cover my coffee habit for just under a year (depending on how wired on want to be). Every time I drink coffee, I feel instant joy, and it doesn’t live long enough to depreciate. And while I do make my own at home, there is simply no denying that coffee tastes better when someone else makes it for me. It’s like how it feels much better to have someone else finger me than when I do it myself, especially since I’m limited in the angles and pressure I can reach. As such, I highly advocate for paying for a service that others can do better for you than you can, which in this case is coffee.
My next outfits were a leopard print bathing suit and a turquoise-and-black set with stockings from Gigi’s House of Frills at Bloor and Dovercourt. These items were bought new. As lingerie and swimwear sit closely to your intimate areas, I only advocate buying new, for hygiene’s sake. Gigi’s is a vintage-lover’s wet dream: recreated classic styles, authentic vintage finds (dresses, coats), makeup in vintage packaging, and a dressing room that is reminiscent of an early ’60s parlour. In need of a new bathing suit, I took a page from my mother’s book and went wild with this leopard print number. What I like is its versatility: I can wear it swimming, or pair it with some high-waisted jeans, boots, leather bomber jacket and a dangerous disposition for a night a dive bar. I could also pair it with a pencil skirt, blazer and heels for a more high-society with bite type of look. Either way, the red lipstick will be out. When it comes to the aqua blue and black set, complete with Gauthier-style bra, black high-waisted panties, garter belt, and black silk stockings, I couldn’t resist. I felt like Ariel in The Little Mermaid getting ready to get bone down. I regret nothing.
What I really enjoy about Gigi’s is their marketing: they feature their employees in their promotional material, and women of all ages, from 18-70+. Moving away from the Victoria Secret, young ultra-thin supermodel aesthetic, they portray real women in their best, most-confident selves. This is such a good move on their end, since feminine-presenting individuals can see themselves reflected in their merchandise. As a slender woman of average height with a thick bottom, this appeals to me greatly. Sex-appeal is ageless. As someone who is entering their late twenties (eek gasp!), I want to improve with age, much like a fine wine or delicious cheese. Gigi’s can see to it that I continue to feel my best as I move further into so-called adulthood (how on earth did I get here?), and at a reasonable price. My two outfits rung me up a total of just over $200 Canadian, much less than Agent Provocateur, that if not washed carefully, will disintegrate (take heed).
Let’s move on to my next look: a turquoise summer dress with ripe cherries, high heels, red garter -belt and red-back-seamed stockings. The stockings that steal the show are once again from Gigi’s, while the sundress is a number I picked up from Tribal Rhythm on Toronto’s Queen West. This basement wonder is a collection of vintage for those who like myself prefer to keep it weird. I originally went to try on a dress that had strawberries printed all over, but alas this one was too big. Then I saw the cherry number and just had to try it on. It swings and sways as I dance in my kitchen and serenade my loving cats while I cook dinner. As I said, I like to keep it weird. 1950’s housewife and cat mom-level weird, to be exact.
Finally, my last ensemble was my own design. The red and black, A-line coat that I designed as a final project in school and featured in my year-end fashion show. I wanted to create a coat that would never go out of style and would be universally flattering while useful: there are two hidden inseam pockets to stash keys, metro pass, phone, what have you. I drew up the design, drafted the pattern, wrote the instructions, and then sewed the coat myself. I take great pride in making my own clothing. As previously mentioned, I prefer being one in a million to one of a million, and so making my own clothing allows me to experiment. While my creations don’t always work out the way I intend, when they do, I get a thrill out of modeling them in everyday life, as if the streets are my own catwalk. However, I need to dispel a myth: making your own clothing is not always less expensive than shopping. While the materials only cost $70 ish, this coat took quite a lot of time to accomplish. The project spanned over three courses and took an entire semester to complete, between my other assignments. Were it to be sold through retail, it would cost upwards of $500.00 if it were to be produced in a set of 100 coats. While this is reasonable for a good fall/early winter coat, I would probably pass it up and shop vintage. And these figures are all assuming you know what you are doing and have the skill and dedication to see your projects through. For every piece I complete, there are at least three projects sitting at home that are half-complete, or a couple that turned out less than perfect. Sewing is a difficult skill to learn, and even I’m not an expert. I actually have a genetic hand tremor, that while relatively harmless, means I have to concentrate harder than the average individual to have my seams flush. This is why I prefer illustrating fashion as opposed to designing: art is more forgiving, and can fit anyone. I have yet to meet someone struggling to fit into a painting after spending countless hours to create the masterpiece.
With all of the above, my parting message is this: when it comes to your style, make sure it reflects your values and your individuality. Shop in places that you want to support. Focus on silhouette, since fit is the most important aspect of whatever you wear. It does you no good to have a high-end sweater dress that hangs limply off your body and is unflattering, even if it’s the must-have item of the season. Buy what works for you. Wear what makes you happy, not what makes you “fit in.” Don’t be afraid to mix it up- homogeny is boring, matching is for the curtains and drapes. Invest in pieces that will last several seasons, and go cheaper for trendy purchases. When it comes to High-Low fashion, no one can tell you what the right balance is for you. Much like starting with a recipe, adjust the proportions to suit your tastes.
Thank you for reading. Please enjoy Bishop Brigg’s single, Hi-Lo (Hollow), and have fun developing your wardrobe.